In September of 2013, Eric Chin of Australia’s Beaton Capital explained why by 2018 — Axiom may become the world’s largest legal services firm. Founded in 2000, Axiom is among a new breed of private equity-backed alternative providers of legal services commonly referred to as “NewLaw”. These “NewLaw” firms are currently taking on traditional large law firms for legal market share via the provision of flexible, cost-efficient legal talent tailored to the expanding and diversifying needs of corporate general counsel.
In November of 2014, Giuliana Auinger was appointed Axiom’s Asia Regional Practice Manager. Coming from a management consulting background, Auinger will be seeking to build Axiom’s market share in a both increasingly competitive — as well as rapidly expanding — regional legal market. Asia Law Portal recently interviewed her about the business of law in Asia and Axiom’s future within it. Here’s a transcript of that interview:
What is Axiom Asia?
Axiom Asia is made up of Axiom’s offices in Hong Kong (opened in 2010) and Singapore (opened in 2012). Axiom is one of the world’s most innovative technology-enabled legal, contracts and compliance solutions provider. Axiom’s mission is to stand beside the world’s greatest companies and industry leaders, helping them navigate the changing industry with innovation that makes sense.
Axiom’s clients are Executives or General Counsels of in-house Legal and Compliance functions within large corporations, and we support them broadly in three ways. All of which involve customised solutions that improve risk, lower costs and create more value for corporations:
The first is where Axiom Asia’s focus has been in recent years – It is about providing outstanding in-house legal services to clients, in client offices, under the supervision of clients. We employ smart, experienced and commercially-savvy legal professionals to support clients on a range of in-house activities and challenges on a part-time or full-time basis. Our business teams also work alongside our clients to provide strategic advisory services as they grapple with the “business” behind running an in-house legal function. As a result of our lean, non-partnership structure, we are able to give our clients the best value for money and our employees the opportunity to do the work they enjoy doing, live the life they love living, and take home great compensation!
The second area is a key differentiator for us in recent years – We are not just lawyers, but technology specialists, process engineers, data scientists, solution designers and business analysts. We help clients manage and deliver complex legal processes, such as managing and executing all commercial contracts or derivatives agreements. Axiom consultants typically work from client premises or from one of our Centre of Excellences around the world.
Last but not least, because of our experience helping clients fundamentally transform the way they approach the business of law, we are able to leverage best practices and knowledge to help clients deliver highly complex projects – Projects with many functional moving parts that require more than just legal expertise. We follow the Goldilocks principle: too many lawyers in the mix and you’re stuck in mud, too few and the team misses the complexity and nuance. Axiom found the perfect balance by bringing together technology, subject matter and project delivery expertise under the same roof.
What challenges and opportunities does Axiom see in Asia versus America or Europe?
There are certainly noticeable differences in the challenges we face here in Asia. The legal market in Asia is tightly controlled, combined with cultural, language and jurisdictional complexities of the region; we find that some clients are less willing to push the boundaries of status quo. Some people may say that Corporate America or Western European countries across the board are more willing to look at innovative approaches whereas Asian markets are not. I personally don’t fully agree with that, I think that those markets are just much quicker at embracing change, and Asia on the other hand, takes a very deliberate and measured approach to new business models. Having said that however, the more we evolve, the better we are at leveraging lessons learnt from our other offices and regions, the more successful we are at finding ways to help our clients while understanding local constraints.
Axiom is often referred to as a “NewLaw” company. Is that definition accurate?
The term “NewLaw” has been used to describe a wide range of developments in the legal services industry and therefore the definition can be very broad. If I was to strip it down to the most basic definition of “legal service providers that do not fit the traditional law firm mould”, then I would say Axiom fits nicely into that.
Axiom is about inventing a whole new category of legal services in the historically changeless industry. Axiom has carried this torch globally for over 15 years, but today, we are no longer alone in this quest. There are innovative and disruptive “NewLaw” companies out there, who are in one way or another, creating or changing the way legal services are provided. And as a result, clients are also adopting their own procurement practices for legal services to drive efficiency and effectiveness in a new era of “multiplicity of providers”.
You come from a management consulting background. What attracted you to Axiom Asia?
The one thing I’ve learnt and taken to heart the most as a management consultant is to always solve business problems unselfishly for clients, seeing it from their perspective and doing it for their benefit. The objective is always to help clients find a better than legacy way of doing things and this is exactly why I was attracted to Axiom in the first place. Axiom listens to its customers and creates what they need, rather than preserving self-interest or finding ways to optimise profits from an internal point of view.
At Axiom Asia, not only am I given the opportunity to continue providing professional consulting services to clients, I am also given the opportunity to operate and grow a unique business first hand. Doing all this back in my home town after many years abroad is the icing on the cake!
How will the Asia-Pacific legal services sector change in the next five years — and where will Axiom Asia be in 2020?
I am reluctant to say if we will see drastic changes in the next five year in the form of exits and entrants in the market, but I do believe that there will be fundamental “sector DNA” changes. Due to the diverse nature of the region, these changes will be more prominent in some countries than others, but nonetheless, Asia-Pacific is catching up! The legal services industry is becoming more innovative and more technology enabled – and I don’t mean merely implementing the latest billing or CRM systems. In the next few years, I believe we will see legal services providers in the region take step changes to the way they approach the business of law, regardless if they are “BigLaw” firms or “NewLaw” companies. Traditional ways of optimising service delivery or scale (for example changing fee structures, combining firms) will no longer suffice. Clients will become more sophisticated and therefore, more demanding. Legal Services providers will need to think outside the box about how to become a customer-centric organisation that delivers legal services in a more simplistic and transparent manner, i.e. to think of better ways of doing things.
To answer your second question, as long as we continue to demonstrate the characteristics I mentioned and hold true to our core values, we will be successful at expanding and tailoring our services into 2020 as customer needs evolve. Our colleagues in the US and Europe are pioneering some fascinating and truly transformational projects that have yet to be brought out to Axiom Asia clients; I hope to see the same innovations being adopted by our clients here in the near future. As the legal industry continues to transform in the region, we also notice that legal professionals are increasingly looking for alternative ways to develop their personal and professional lives. I would also like to see Axiom Asia become better known as the company that nurtures business-oriented, ambitious and sophisticated legal professionals and clients.
What advice would you give today’s law students about career planning? Should Axiom be a focus for them as a potential future employer?
Traditionally, a career in law means one of two things – either join a law firm or work in-house. My advice to today’s law students would be to stay curious and open-minded. There are now alternative career options that may seem alien at first but have a lot more to offer in the long-term. Try not to immediately rule out ideas just because they don’t fit the status quo. A new name or a new model might just be the more rewarding option as one’s life priorities evolve! For example, Axiom attracts the world’s top legal professionals and has a very diverse work force (~50% women and ~40% minorities) because we truly care about what people want to do and we are determined to help them get there; from getting junior consultants the opportunity to work in areas or industries they’ve always dreamt of working in, to helping seasoned consultants find real work-life balance while doing sophisticated work. Companies like Axiom exist. They might do things differently, but law students today should definitely not rule them out.
Note: Axiom is not a law firm. Axiom Consultants are neither registered foreign lawyers nor Singapore or Hong Kong lawyers holding practising certificates.